Critique – ‘Decasia’ (2002, Bill Morrison)


Morrison, B. (2002) Decasia: the story of decay [DVD]. bfi.
A silent film produced to be shown alongside the original music score of the same name, crafted of decomposing historic film stock where the artifacts created by the decay process are as much subjects of the film as the images themselves. Featuring corrosion and nitrate smears, this is a film about how film dies. Comprising historic, mainly pre-war film stock which contributes to the feeling of the identity of the subject matter being obscured by both time and physical decay. Director Bill Morrison talks in interview about the film being in part a response to the universal construct of an illusionary sense of permanence developed in order to mitigate the inevitability of our own mortality and that of our current form of society. Michael Gordon, composer, talks about the sense of ‘covering up of beauty’, as if the film artifacts are a veil.
I have personal experience of watching film artifacts develop in real time as I used to project loops of old 8mm stock in dance clubs – sometimes the loop would catch on the spool and the heat of the bulb would destroy the film. The result would be seen as pinpricks quickly turning into amorphous blobs overrunning the frozen frame. As far as I know, Bill Morrison did not deliberately damage the film stock used in the making of Decasia. This action would perhaps create a film with an entirely different sense of purpose.

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